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Old 05-20-2012, 09:50 PM   #13294
ATDrake
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Posts: 6,368
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Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: Roundworld
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Finished a number of books in the meantime (I think the commenting deficit is well into the double-digits now). Might as well mention the latest, since it came from the library's New Books shelf and I quite enjoyed it.

The Ionia Sanction by Gary Corby is a sleuthy mystery/adventure thriller set in historical Ancient Greece, and really is historical, with this episode, the 2nd in series, being centred around a certain event involving the real-life Athenian general turned Persian satrap Themistocles, whose Wikipedia entry I won't link to because it'll probably spoiler you for what happens in the book.

In any case, author Corby does a fairly decent job of interweaving his fictional sleuth and activities with real-life personages (his amateur sleuth is a made-up brother for the real Socrates, who's a teenaged boy in this, and makes this the 2nd Ancient Greek sleuthy famous philosopher-related series that I know of, the other being Margaret Doody's Aristotle books which one day I'll have to try).

I like how he not only includes historical notes and explanations showing how he deviates from the real history and why (as well as "this sounds like I made it up, but really I didn't; it's all there in Thucidydes") but also introduces his cast of characters with a little descriptive blurb and funny representative quote from them at the start of the book. Plus there's a naming/pronunciation guide which suggests to sound really authentic, you need to pronounce the χ in the traditional Scottish/German ch manner: i.e. like gently choking on a fishbone.

I've always been somewhat wary of 1st-person narration done in historical detective novels, as many authors tend to make their sleuths sound like a jaded transplanted 20th century noir/police procedural narrator who's quantum leapt into a convenient period body, keeping modern attitudes more-or-less intact and finding justifications for why their heroes are so out of step with the local times (if they even bother acknowledging that people were much the same, and yet very different, back then).

Corby's aspiring sleuth Nicolaos isn't entirely free from a certain Quantum Leap-yness, especially as regards going against his father's will to try and secure a love marriage with an unsuitably-backgrounded undowried girlfriend instead of a standard status-enhancing property marriage though that probably did happen a lot in ancient times as well, but otherwise reads as generally fairly in tune with his time period for the most part and there's only a minor occasional infodumpy clunkiness in the explanatory narrative for the differing customs of the time, some of which are probably different enough to need some explanation for people who haven't studied Athenian historical culture.

Overall, the plot moves fairly well (it's one of those mysterious murder leads to mysterious artifact to mysterious personage which takes you on a distant journey to find out how they all tie together, with some Greek/Persian political intrigue involved) and the whodunnit resolves well enough. The characters were generally likeable (excepting the ones which obviously weren't supposed to be) and weren't afraid to make fun of the sleuth at his expense, and there were some witty lines in the dialogue and narration.

Medium-high recommend if you've an interest in ancient Greek historical sleuthery which incorporates real-life Greek history (and not just the background trappings). The writing is a little light and perhaps shallow in places, but the history/culture inclusions added a nice depth, and there was a charming sense of humour to much of it.

I really liked this, in part because it was very Relevant to My Interests, but also because it was fairly entertainingly written and enjoyable in its own right. I'll be looking up the 1st in the series at the library, and should these things go on discount sale as e-book for, say, ~$3 per volume, I'd be happy to buy the lot.
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